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Crystal River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

The beautiful and scenic Crystal River begins as the North and South Forks flowing out of the Gunnison national Forest in Gunnison County, just a few miles west of Vail and northwest of Crested Butte. It flows westerly through Bogan Flats, the turns north through Carbondale on its way to the confluence with the Roaring Forks River, then on to the confluence with the Colorado River. The river is rugged and very challenging, starting high in the Rocky Mountains from an elevation of 9,520 feet msl from which the river drops more than 3,000 feet in less than 25 miles. The North Fork is a very short Class VI run that plunges at a rate of 490 feet per mile (fpm), and should ONLY be attempted by groups of expert paddlers in kayaks.

Located close to Denver, the ghost town of Crystal is a throwback to the mining days of the Old West. The river valley is very remote and parts of it have very high canyon walls, steep drops, big wateralls, a narrow river channel clogged by house-size boulders and risks to life and limb everywhere you look. Everything above the Avalanche to BRB Campground section is rated Class IV or higher. The Crystal River is as gorgeous as it is treacherous. Even the Class III water has to be negotiated with great care. Flood and avalanche debris may clog the channel, especially below big drps and around blind corners, so it is necessary to be vigilant and scout the river whenever possible.

The Crystal River is strongly recommended as a place for expert kayakers and rafters only, and there are places where not even rafts can or should go. Under no circumstances should less than expert level whitewater paddlers attempt to run most of the Crystal River, including the North Fork and Crystal Gorge. The steep gradient, lack of safe scouting places, tightly constricted canyon walls, big drops (at least one over a 40-foot waterfall), huge boulders in mid-stream, fast water and tree debris all pose great threats to paddlers. Do NOT run the Crystal River unless you are up to the challenge of a lifetime, then hang on for dear life and do something few will ever try.

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Crystal River where you want to paddle.

[ Crystal Mill Falls ] [ Crystal Gorge ] [ Bogan Canyon ] [ Meatgrinder to The Narrows ] [ Avalanche to BRB Campground ]

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© February 15, 2003. All rights reserved.
Last updated September 2, 2015

Copyright © 1998-2015, Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics. All rights reserved. Southwest Paddler, CobraGraphics and Canoeman River Guide Services are trademarks of Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics. The textual, graphic, audio, and audio/visual material in this site is protected by United States copyright law and international treaties. You may not copy, distribute, or use these materials except for your personal, non-commercial use. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners. All original photographs on this web site are the exclusive property of Marc W. McCord or other designated photographers and may not be copied, duplicated, reproduced, distributed or used in any manner without prior written permission under penalty of US and International laws and treaties.